Networking is a vital activity for small businesses. It can be enjoyable, as well as crucial to your company’s growth and development. As every successful entrepreneur will know, small businesses thrive when they can build relationships and grow together.
Learning how to use networking as a tool to give your business the most opportunities to thrive can help set you on the road to success. For many new SMEs, coworking space is proving an ideal environment for collaboration and networking.
What is networking?
Networking is the process of interacting with other people to exchange ideas and information. It can include business and social networking, with the aim of developing new contacts for a mutually beneficial business relationship.
The people who take part in networking usually have a common profession, industry or interest. Many people agree the best networking usually takes place in a relaxed setting with a social feel, rather than at an organised networking event. However, both can be successful and serve a useful purpose.
Networking can happen at special events, at the office, through industry associations or via LinkedIn, email and other online means.
Why is networking important to small businesses?
Whether you’re asking for feedback, or discussing different points of view, it helps to expand your knowledge and allows you to see things from a new perspective. You will probably meet people who have been in your position in the past. You can learn from their experience and avoid the mistakes they may have made.
You will also have opportunities that otherwise may not have come your way such as potential partnerships, a referral, or requests for your products and services. This can happen at any time, so it’s important to remain open to opportunities and seize them when they come along.
Networking is a two-way street, so if another member of your network matches a business you’ve encountered, share their details. This will strengthen your reputation as a reliable networking partner. It’s always polite to ask colleagues if they’re okay with you sharing their details.
If you’re shy when it comes to talking to people you don’t know, making yourself network can help increase your confidence. The growth of your business depends on making connections and engaging people, so confidence is an important attribute.
Has networking changed with new technology?
Technology has evolved tremendously over the past 20 years, enabling people to engage in new ways. In the past, the only way to network was in person. Today, with the evolution of social networking sites, people can chat online and engage in unique ways.
We can remain connected wherever we go, because everyone has a smartphone or tablet. However, no-one should rely solely on networking online. While 80% of professionals believe it is the best way to find a meaningful job and attain greater career success, nine out of ten feel face-to-face meetings create stronger relationships.
Networking helps you to start and grow your business, according to a study by Oxford Economics. This includes with customers, clients, business partners and vendors.
The close rate at in-person meetings is 40%, meaning they end in a deal or sale, but this doesn’t mean you should ignore networking online altogether.
Networking dos and don’ts for small businesses
There’s no “right time” to start networking. Start the moment you think of a business idea, when you’re due to launch, or when you’re starting to grow your business. Whenever you start, remember the important dos and don’ts:
- Do be confident, clear and concise when describing your business, as your audience will lose interest quickly if you’re long-winded or unclear when trying to outline what you have to offer.
- Do ask questions. Everyone likes to talk about what they’re passionate about. A commonly used tactic to encourage people to engage with you is to ask plenty of questions about their business.
- Do make friends when networking and follow up the initial contact. If you’ve received business cards, get back in touch with everyone a few weeks later out of courtesy and ask how they’re getting on. You may catch them at the right time to discuss new business opportunities.
- Don’t be too personal when asking and answering questions. While the whole point is to get to know people and connect on a human level, remember you’re there representing your business, so it’s inappropriate to talk too much about your personal life.
- Don’t give up: not everyone will show you the interest you want, but don’t get disheartened – simply move on and talk to someone else who may be more receptive.
- Don’t forget your manners, as they reflect you as a professional. If someone makes a comment you don’t agree with, don’t get involved in a heated debate. Keep your cool at all times.
Can coworking help networking for small businesses?
Coworking spaces are a great place for networking. Research has shown 79% of coworkers have expanded their social networks since they joined the flexible workspace. The whole point of coworking is to interact with other users, creating a sense of community.
The whole environment is built for networking, in a way that working from home or a corporate office can never match. Surveys show 80% of coworkers believe having other members to interact with is the best thing about using a coworking space.
It has led 82% of respondents to expand their professional networks and 51% to find new job opportunities. According to a survey by GCUC, 84% of coworkers say they have become more motivated and engaged, 69% have learned new skills and 68% have enhanced their existing skillset.
Are you looking for coworking space in the London area? Headspace Group’s Coworking Space in Farringdon features glass walls, so you have privacy without isolation. Take advantage of the networking opportunities for your small business by taking a look for yourself.
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